Liberia, its name derived from the Latin liber, meaning "free," was founded by freed American slaves in the early nineteenth century. The most important city is Monrovia and was named in honor of President Monroe, who held office at the time the Republic was officially established. Red, white, and blue mailboxes, American currency, and the widespread use of English bespeak the American influence, and it is not unlike visiting part of our own country in the summertime.
Liberia is a delightful country. The waterfront market of Monrovia teems with activity, particularly in the early morning hours. Here one sees both American and African influences in the dress of the Liberians. Women may effect Western dress or wear long cotton skirts in startling colors, with bandannas loosely wrapped around their heads. Smiling and friendly, they made us feel most welcome.
Cassava, addoes, tiny hot red peppers. sweet potatoes, yams, and green bananas dominate the market, but there are also collard greens, cabbage, eggplant, okra, coconut, and fresh ginger. The staple food is rice, which is eaten twice a day in most households.
Tiny roadside restaurants are called "Cook Shops" and feature Jollof Rice along with an assortment of stews. As in Ghana, cooking is done outdoors on the ubiquitous three-stone hearth. Many of these, such as Roseline's, a favorite of Liberian government officials, offer excellent fare. You'll find dishes like cabbage cooked with bacon and pigs' feet, sweet-potato leaves with fish, palm nuts with shrimp in fish or chicken stock, and dried Norwegian fish. Check Rice, a delightful combination of rice and platto leaves or okra, is a popular dish. Goat Soup is the national soup and is served at every important state function.
Liberians love sweet desserts and American pastries such as sweet-potato pie, coconut pie, and pumpkin pie. Peanuts are used in cookies and desserts of all kinds. Liberian rice bread made with mashed bananas is a great delicacy. Ginger beer and palm wine are the preferred beverages. Liberian coffee is excellent.
The greeting of one Liberian to another is unusual, and you might greet your guests this way at your Liberian dinner. When shaking hands you grasp the middle finger of your friend's right hand between your thumb and third finger and bring it up quickly with a snap. The custom had its origin in the days of slavery when it was not uncommon for a slave owner to break the finger of his slave's hand to indicate bondage. When the freed slaves colonized Liberia, they began this ritualistic greeting as a "sign" of their freedom.
A feeling of good fellowship and relaxation is reflected at a Liberian table. When you are a guest in a Liberian home, you are overwhelmed by the number of dishes spread before you. You will find Dumboy and Foo-foo made from cassava and served with Palm Butter, Palava Sauce, a meat stew made with a spinach-like leaves (this sauce and other soups, sauces, and stews all have a similar consistency corresponding to our stews). Then there might be Liberia's "Country Chop," probably their best-known dish, consisting of meats, fish, and greens fried in palm oil. There will also be dishes like fish cooked in coconut cream, fried plantains, Jollof Rice, Beef Internal Soup, all set on the table at the same time. Liberian rice bread and sweet-potato pone might also grace the table, with pitchers of ginger beer.
The hostess, dressed in a long, strikingly colorful skirt, a handsome blouse, and a huge bandanna, spends a great deal of time preparing this dinner. Then she sets all of the bowls on the table and sits down. She remains seated until the dinner is completely finished.
Food is eaten with the fingers by many Africans, but the American influence in Liberia is very strong, and most hostesses set the tables with plates and glasses, both turned over with the napkin resting on the inverted plate.
Fruits may be served later in the evening. In Monrovia we had sumptuous mangos with cloves, a perfect ending to a hearty meal.
For your Liberian dinner, use a plain white or striped tablecloth with matching napkins. No centerpiece is necessary, but arrange colorful bowls and platters in a long row in the center of the table if it is an oblong one. In this case no one sits at each end of the table, because there will be a lot of passing of dishes.
When setting the table, turn the plates upside down so as to allow each guest to turn up his plate himself. Place the napkins on the tops of the overturned plates. Also, turn down the beer glasses. Everything will be eaten from one dinner plate. Place the soup in a tureen and place small soup bowls in front of it. Guests are asked to help themselves.
It's fun to be a hostess for a Liberian dinner. Everything goes on the table at once. There may be more preparation time required, to be sure, but once finished, appetizer, soup, entrees, vegetables, desserts, and beverages are all served in bowls and platters and the hostess can then sit with her guests and enjoy herself. No dishes are removed until the dinner is over.
The ginger beer, ice cold in a glass pitcher, is served right along with the dinner.
Coffee is not generally served except at state functions; a pity as the Liberian home grown coffee is so delicious. The ginger beer is well worth the effort it takes to make it. If you serve it, be warned- it has quite a kick.
Meat, Fish, Poultry
Fruits and Vegetables
Check dried codfish for saltiness. If very salty it may need to be soaked overnight, in which case eliminate salt from recipe.
Liberian soups are unlike most soup dishes and are often a combination of meats, fish, and vegetables ultimately combined in one pot. With less water they may be served as main dishes. Other vegetables such as okra and string beans may be added.
In a 1 gallon pot:
Combine: 1 Ib. STEW BEEF, cut in 1/2 inch dice
Simmer for one hour or until meat is tender.
In another 1 gallon pot:
Combine: 1/2 Ib. ONIONS, thinly sliced
Simmer until fish is tender.
Combine fish and meat and simmer slowly for 20 minutes.
Debone 1 large SMOKED FISH (herring, mackerel, whitefish, etc.).
Add to soup and cook 10 minutes longer.
Correct the Seasonings to your taste.
Serve with rice or Foo-foo.
Jollof Rice is served with variations in many countries of West Africa. In Liberia pigs' feet are used with salt pork and bacon as well as with chicken. This dish may be made from scratch with fresh chicken pieces, alone or in combination, but it is also an excellent dish for leftover chicken, veal, turkey, tongue, ham, bacon, etc.
In a 10-inch skillet:
Saute: 2 Ibs. COOKED MEATS (such as chicken, bacon, shrimp, smoked pork) cut in 1-inch chunks in
In a 4-quart kettle:
Saute: 1/2 cup YELLOW ONIONS, finely chopped
Add 1 16-oz. can WHOLE TOMATOES (2 cups).
Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add: 2 6-oz. cans TOMATO PASTE
Add the cooked meat and simmer 20 minutes longer.
In a 2 quart saucepan:
Cook: 2 cups WHITE RICE in
Correct the Seasonings with salt, pepper, etc.
Combine the sauce of the meat with the rice.
Pour the Jollof Rice in a deep bowl, arranging the meat in the center.
If collard greens are not available, use 2 Ibs. spinach instead, in which case cut cooking time to 10 minutes.
In a 4-quart saucepan:
Combine: 1 bunch COLLARD GREENS, washed and cut in small pieces
Simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Add: 2 Ibs. CABBAGE cut into 8 wedges and
Cook for 15 minutes or longer until vegetables are tender.
Correct the Seasoning to your taste.
Strain before serving if water has not been absorbed.
Serve in a 2-quart bowl.
* Ham hocks previously cooked may be substituted for bacon, but save the water in which ham hocks were cooked to use as the Iiquid for the recipe.
In a 3-quart saucepan:
Combine: 3 cups GRATED RAW SWEET POTATOES
Simmer slowly, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.
Pour into well-greased 9-inch baking pan.
Bake at 325' for 30 minutes, stirring up every 5 minutes for the first 20 minutes.
Smooth down the top and allow to brown.
Cut into squares and serve either hot or cold.
Ginger beer may be diluted with water or extra sugar, or ginger may be added to obtain desired taste. Liberians make the ginger beer with the peelings of pineapple only.
Chop 1 Ib. FRESH GINGER finely, and then beat to a powder.
Add 2 FRESH PINEAPPLES unpeeled and cut in chunks.
Pour 2 gallons BOILING WATER over and allow to cool to lukewarm.
Add 2 tsp. YEAST dissolved in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water.
Allow to stand overnight covered.
Add 3 1/2 cups MOLASSES on the following day.
Chill and strain. Bottle tightly and refrigerate.
These will make a very authentic addition to your dinner, and will add to the presentation. Cut four plantains in half lengthwise and then crosswise into six uniform pieces. Saute them quickly in a quarter of an inch of hot oil in a saute pan. Use green bananas if plantains are not available.
Coconut Pie is quite a favorite in Liberia. You might want to serve it later in the evening. See Mrs. Spear's (of Monrovia) famous Coconut Pie in the dessert section (page 216).
A simple fruit dessert might be added to the dinner or served later in the evening. You can make this with fresh or canned (yellow cling) peaches or apricots if mangos are not available. Use two 24-oz. cans of peaches or apricots for eight servings.
In a 1-quart saucepan:
Place 4 large MANGOS peeled and cut in large pieces.
Add: 1 cup SYRUP from a can of peaches and
Simmer for 15 minutes or until mangos are tender.
Spear some of the pieces with a few cloves.
Cool and serve in compote dishes.
To order a copy of The African Cookbook, please contact:
African Studies Main Menu